Localism. A dreadful word. But did it not once feature large in David Cameron’s vocabulary?
Local decisions, by local people for local people.
The prime minister’s mantra was supposedly aimed at handing back power to those who knew best – those who lived, worked, ate and slept in an area and supposedly knew just what was right for it.
Apparently that is not quite the case as we report in two stories today.
One is about a church, the other a block of retirement flats.
The former is at the gateway to Emsworth, the latter a hugely controversial prime seafront site at Southsea.
They could not be more different, but the result is the same.
At Emsworth a £2m Baptist church is nearing completion. The brown brick building has been likened to a battery hen shed and Portsmouth’s Tricorn. Few in the town apparently have anything good to say about it.
And when it went before Havant Borough Council’s planning committee, it was thrown out because it did not fit with the historic character of Emsworth.
In Portsmouth the city’s planning committee did exactly the same with McCarthy & Stone’s plans to build flats on Harry Redknapp’s land – the former Savoy buildings site on South Parade.
Both the church and the homebuilder appealed and in both cases a planning inspector has sided with them not the locals – whether they be councillors or concerned residents.
Of course, where planning issues are of national importance, such as new runways at Heathrow or Gatwick or high speed rail links covering half the country, there is a strong case for retaining the planning inspectorate.
The principle here is that local people should make the decisions about the subjects they know intimately, whether that incurs the wrath of local people or wins plaudits. A new church and a block of flats will not affect the nation’s wellbeing, but whether they were built or not should have been decided by those accountable locally, not faceless bureaucrats.